Billionaire Ross Perot, former independent presidential candidate, dies at 89

Perot died Tuesday morning.

Ross Perot was the founder of Electronic Data Systems and Perot Systems.
Ross Perot was the founder of Electronic Data Systems and Perot Systems.  USA TODAY NETWORK via REUTERS/Michael Mulvey

Ross Perot, a Dallas billionaire and a former independent candidate for president, has died at 89, according to a spokesperson for the Perot family.

Perot died early Tuesday morning at his home in Dallas, surrounded by family, spokesperson James Fuller said in a statement.

Perot made his mark in the computer services industry, founding both Electronic Data Systems and Perot Systems, in 1962 and in 1988, respectively. In 1992, Perot ran unsuccessfully for president as an independent candidate — but he drew a notable 19% of the vote, which was the best showing of any third-party candidate in nearly a century. Perot ran a second time for the job in 1996.

As news of Perot's death set in Tuesday, statements from current and former public officials poured in.

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"Texas and America have lost a strong patriot," former President George W. Bush said in a statement. "Ross Perot epitomized the entrepreneurial spirit and the American creed. He gave selflessly of his time and resources to help others in our community, across our country, and around the world. He loved the U.S. military and supported our service members and veterans. Most importantly, he loved his dear wife, children, and grandchildren."

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said in a statement that "we have lost a true Dallas icon." Perot, he added, "personified the American dream and will be sorely missed."

Perot was born on June 27, 1930, in Texarkana, to Gabriel Ross and Lulu May Perot. Perot, growing up in the Depression era, often helped his father by selling horse saddles and, later, horses. He sold Christmas cards and garden seeds. And he sold newspapers in one of his town's poorest neighborhoods.

Perot graduated from Texarkana High School in 1947 and enrolled at Texarkana College, where he served as class president. From there, Perot, who said he had never seen the ocean or a ship, went to the U.S. Naval Academy. After his stint in the Navy, Perot joined International Business Machines in Dallas as a salesman, quickly rising through the ranks.

In January 1962, Perot filled his sales quota for the year. By June, though, Perot had decided it was time to head out on his own. With money saved from work and from the teaching salary of his wife, Margot, he founded Electronic Data Systems, an information technology services company. He later founded Perot Systems, another company that helped to lay the groundwork for the future technology era.

Before Perot decided to run for office, he was appointed to various committees and task forces by elected officials from both political parties in Texas. In 1979, then-Gov. Bill Clements, a Republican, tapped Perot to lead the Texas War on Drugs to toughen the state's drug laws and increase public awareness. In 1984, then-Gov. Mark White, a Democrat, asked Perot to spearhead a statewide education reform initiative.

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In 1992, Perot ran for president as a third-party candidate — and his historic percentage of the vote prompted some Republicans to blame him for President George H.W. Bush's loss to Bill Clinton, a Democrat. During that 1992 campaign, Perot spent over $63 million of his own money and used charts and graphs that included what became his soundbite: "It's just that simple."

In 1996, when Perot ran again for president, his bid was less successful. He received 8% of the vote.

Perot made headlines in other ways, too. In 1979, the Iranian government jailed two employees of Electronic Data Systems in Tehran. Perot organized a mission to free them, which was recalled later in a book and a TV series. Before that, during the Vietnam War, Perot worked with families of prisoners of war to raise awareness for men who had either gone missing or were being held captive.

Later, during the first Gulf War, Perot spearheaded an initiative to study brain damage some soldiers experienced once they returned home. That research was later recognized as Gulf War syndrome, and it led to federal funding to help treat those who experienced such symptoms.

Perot is survived by his wife, Margot, whom he was married to for 62 years, and his five children.